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How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?


Infographic courtesy of

One of the most important trends that surfaced in 2014 was what’s been called “the rise of the nones.”  In a continuation of the trendline, one of the most significant trends in 2015 is that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

Let me say that again.  The research shows that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

In my mind, the research begs a number of questions:

  • How might the trend affect small group ministries?
  • Is the trend reversible?
  • Do we (small group ministry point people) have a role to play in reversing the trend?

Actually, I think our first responsibility is to learn as much as we can about the trend.  Here is the beginning of a collection of books, blog posts, podcasts, and interviews that will help you begin to have an opinion.

I don’t know about you, but I have long believed that the days of “come with me to my church” will be supplanted by “come over to my house.”  As that happens, church attendance (and unconnected churchgoers) will be a less important pool than the neighborhood.

What do you think?  Want to ask a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Signs You Are Too Close to See Your Ministry Problems Clearly

mirrorDo you know the signs that you are too close to the problem to know that you have a problem?  I’m betting we all know this experience in life, right?  “Do these jeans make me look fat?”  “Tell me the truth…would a faux hawk look okay on me?”  “My presentation was good, wasn’t it?”

With me?  Been there?  On the receiving end and the giving end?

Now clearly, one of the major themes here has been the conviction that there really is no problem-free system, model or strategy.  There aren’t.  I know that.  And I think by now you do too.  See also, Breaking:  No Problem-Free Small Group System, Solution or Strategy.

Still…think we can be too close to see ministry problems clearly?  I do.  And I think it’s a very common problem.

Here are 5 signs you are too close:

  1. Even though you’ve already tried a strategy three times, you’re going to give it one more try “just to make sure.”  This is a dangerous mistake.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results (Einstein).”  If you’ve tried a strategy more than once and experienced the same results, it’s time to rethink the way you are doing what you are doing.  See also, The 5 Biggest Ministry Mistakes I’ve Made.
  2. You refuse to connect results with design and grasp for straws blaming results on flukes.  A classic indication that you are too close to truly see the issue.  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you find yourself assigning blame to the weather, the popularity of the local football team or the economy…you’re in denial.  It is the design.  See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design is Inadequate.
  3. Your research indicates you’re inadequately prepared to try a new strategy, but you are “praying for God to move.”  Obviously, you must have access to unbiased and objective research.  That is a given.  Still, if after researching a strategy you are willing to go forward in spite of your lack of preparation, you need to take a closer look in the mirror.  Remember, “Smart people learn from their own mistakes. However, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes.”
  4. You’re hesitant to ask more knowledgable ministry veterans because you “know what they’ll say.”  This is another extremely dangerous mistake.  Yes, there will always be the guardians of the status quo.  I’m not suggesting that you go to them for breakthrough ideas.  I am suggesting that the time spent asking great questions of ministry veterans is always worthwhile.
  5. You’re not asking the right questions.  Sometimes the biggest indication that we are too close to the problem is when we operate with a ready, fire, aim mentality.  Instead of spending the required time asking the right questions, we push ahead, eager to get started and overlooking many obvious issues.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

What do you think?  Want to ask a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Starting Point: A Conversation about Faith

starting pointI spent some time this week with a resource I think you should know about and if you already know about it, maybe rethink how it might be used.  Starting Point: A Conversation about Faith is not a new resource, although this is a revised version.  And I have to be honest.  I had heard about it many times over the last few years, but I had never looked at it.

Starting Point is an 8 week DVD-driven study featuring Andy Stanley that is based on the understanding that many of us might need a new starting point for our faith.  I like the way the cover of the conversation guide puts it: “Everything has a starting point–your life, your relationships, your education, your career.  Sometimes we forget that faith has a starting point as well.  For some of us, our faith journeys began in childhood as a set of beliefs handed to us by a parent, teacher or pastor.  Maybe you developed a framework of faith based on personal experience.  Or maybe you had no faith at all.  Too often, a faith formed in childhood isn’t strong enough to withstand the pressures of adult life.”

The DVD features Andy Stanley and the video is taken from a series of messages delivered live at North Point.  Each of the segments is 22 to 25 minutes delivered by one of the most compelling communicators in America and they easily hold attention.  As is the case on most North Point studies, the DVD also includes full messages in addition to the segments.

The DVD also includes a downloadable leader’s guide and a collection of additional resources (banner ad, templates for bulletins, postcards, and posters, as well as a powerpoint template).  The leader’s guide is very thorough on it’s own, but also includes a link to an online leader’s resource that is even more complete.

The conversation guide includes everything you need for a great experience.  Designed a little differently than many study guides, the intent is that members spend some time each week in preparation for the group meeting, work their way through a short set of readings and questions for reflection, and then come to the meeting prepared to talk about what they’ve learned.

If your church is looking for a way to help seekers (those who are curious about God, Jesus, the Bible or Christianity), starters (those who have just begun a relationship with Jesus Christ), or returners (those who have some church experience but have been away for awhile), Starting Point is a fantastic resource.  I also think this is a great study for individual small groups that are comprised of seekers, starters, and returners.  I love this new edition and I think you’ll agree that it is a great resource.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



Thinking Thursday: On Design’s Next Great Frontiers

Every Thursday I am posting a video that I think you need to watch.  Most of my previous suggestions have been from TED.  This video is from the Kellogg School of Management and features Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of IDEO.  This video is a little more than an hour long.  Bennett has some fascinating insights into a number of topics that on the surface might seem pretty far afield from ours.  I think you’ll discover just a few minutes in that this is must watch content.

“A bonafide rockstar in the innovation and design world, Paul spoke to students from across Northwestern on the future of design. Topics included how IDEO has harnessed design to foster innovation in health care, education, and communities by focusing on love, beauty, religion, death and space. Learn more by watching the event video below (from the intro at Kellogg).

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.35.51 PM

Can’t see the video?  You can watch it right here.

Is It As Simple As This?

snakeIf you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you know that I am a fan of simple and often self-evident wisdom.

I believe Andy Stanley was right.  Your ministry really is “perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”

I have no doubt that there actually aren’t any problem-free solutions, strategies or systems and wise leaders really do simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

And while I’m on the subject of simple wisdom, I am also confident that Jesus was on to something big when He said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16 NIV).”

Shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

I had a long talk with someone the other day and told them that they had the innocent as a dove part down, but if they wanted to lead they must learn to be wise as a serpent.  And, full disclosure, I also told them that I could use some work on the innocent as a dove part.

The bottom line today?  Building a thriving small group ministry requires wisely making tough decisions.  Bloated belong and become menus will have to be trimmed down.  You will have to develop clarity about the right next step and that will require choosing what is not the right next step.  It will be essential to develop a keen understanding of the culture.  And there will be no way around adopting a leadership development track that will require commitment and endurance.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Roadblocks.

What do you need to develop?  Wisdom or innocence?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

How to Make Disciples in Small Groups

light at the endI don’t know about you, but I’m determined to build a thriving small group ministry that makes disciples.  That is the light at the end of the tunnel for me.  It is the end in mind.  It’s not just to connect unconnected people.  That’s important, but only a beginning.  My objective is to make disciples.  And I suspect–since you are still along on this journey with me–that is your objective too!  See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

And if your objective is to make disciples…you must know what it is you are trying to make (i.e., What is a disciple?).  Once you know that little detail, you will be able to lay out a path that leads to that preferred future.

With me?

And to that end, I love this paragraph from Dallas Willard.  In my mind it informs what it is that I need to do in laying out the path.

As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I (emphasis mine) I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did.  How to Be a Disciple

Still with me?  This sets up a fairly clear understanding of the things that will have to be true about a small group ministry that will make disciples.

  1. It defines what I must do as I develop coaches.  I will need do to and for my coaches the things that will help them learn to live their lives as Jesus would live their lives.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor.
  2. It defines what our coaches must do to and for the leaders they are discipling.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  3. It defines what our small group leaders must do to and for the members they are discipling.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

3 Post-Easter Strategies that Ought to Be on Your Radar

ChessAs you know, there are certain windows every year when it is easier to launch new small groups.  You may not have thought about it, but it is important to know that these windows are not the same.

Each of these windows is unique.  Each window appeals to a different demographic slice.  A different underlying motivation accompanies each window.  And most importantly, different strategies will maximize the connecting potential of each window.

One of the best windows to launch new small groups is the four to six weeks right after Easter.  There is often a heightened spiritual receptivity (although it is diminishing, Easter is still on the minds of many who are essentially churchless).  Easter can sometimes motivate a desire for (if fleeting) recommitment.  Easter, along with Christmas Eve and Mother’s Day, is a time when couples (and families) attend together.

3 Post-Easter Strategies

There are three strategies that ought to be on your radar.

  1. A small group connection is an event that can be scheduled one or two weekends after Easter.  It can be promoted as a  short-term opportunity (ideally a six week study).  The right topic (one especially chosen to appeal to infrequent attenders and the spouses of frequent attenders) can make it an appealing first step out of the auditorium.  Six weeks is short enough to seem reasonable and just long enough to begin to establish enough connectivity to encourage groups to decide to continue beyond the six weeks.  See also, How to Launch New Groups Using a Small Group Connection, 5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events and 5 Studies that Will Connect People after Easter.
  2. A short-term on-campus study can be scheduled two weeks after Easter.  Selecting the right topic (or set of topics) will entice some to put a toe in the water.  Holding the study on-campus removes the fear of showing up in a stranger’s living room.  The topic itself (for example, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage) provides the motivation (as opposed to promoting the benefit of being part of a group).  See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.
  3. A take-home study that accompanies your post-Easter message series can be scheduled right after Easter.  Promoted as a study that can be done with a couple friends (or simply with your family), the right topic will make this an easy next step.  Many off-the-shelf studies provide almost everything you need to encourage a wave of hosts to pick up a grab-and-go kit from the table in the lobby and invite a couple friends to do the study with you.  Adding the element of just-in-time coaching provided via email can help new groups add additional new members in the first couple weeks.  See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

By the way, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day both offer additional opportunities to launch new groups and connect unconnected women and men.  See also, Take Advantage of Special Days to Launch New Small Groups.

Dilbert on Developing Insight

Sometimes we just need to laugh.  And then again, sometimes it hurts to laugh.

bad time to become insightful

Thinking Thursday: Why Great Leaders Make You Feel Safe

As you watch this video from Simon Sinek (best known for his book Start with Why), listen for clues about the aspects that ought to be built in to what is modeled for small group leaders.

Can’t see the video?  You can click here to watch it.

5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events

post itThere are certain things you must keep in mind as you’re planning events or strategies to connect unconnected people.

  1. Unconnected people care about what they care about.  In other words, what already connected people care about or are curious about doesn’t matter.  When you are choosing a topic or a small group study, the only people whose opinions count are the people you are trying to connect.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  2. Unconnected people are infrequent attenders.  They will not necessarily be there on the week you’ve chosen to announce or promote the connecting event.  If you want to give them the very best opportunity to connect, you must promote the connecting event several weeks in a row.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People.
  3. Unconnected people are more likely to respond to a short-term test-drive (4 to 6 weeks).  The longer the commitment the less likely they are to respond.  It is far more effective to offer a short-term commitment with built-in next steps.  The longer the required commitment the smaller the percentage who will sign up.  The shorter the required commitment the greater the percentage who will sign up.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Shortcuts You Need to Know.
  4. Unconnected people are looking for convenience.  Be sure you are scheduling the event at the most convenient time or times.  Plan to offer free childcare.  Provide an all-inclusive experience.  Every unnecessary step and everything that inconveniences them or forces them to go out of their way increases the chance that they will decline to take the test-drive.
  5. Unconnected people are often quick to change their mind.  While they don’t have to be, they are sometimes looking for a reason or excuse not to come (think about how often one spouse is interested and the other is not).  The more you can do to reinforce their commitment the better.  Confirmation and reminder emails are essential, a reminder phone call the day before, and an “even if you didn’t sign up” announcement the day of the event are all helpful measures that make attendance more likely.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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